My wife wanted to build a raised-bed garden as cheaply and easily as possible. She bought a load of compost, but she didn’t want to buy railroad ties, hay bales, cut granite blocks, or whatever it is that people use for building fancy gardens. She didn’t want to show off; she just wanted to grow vegetables. She instructed me to bring whatever crap we had lying around, and she figured out a way to make a garden out of it. Here’s the process, step by step.
First, she got the compost. This is the only ingredient we actually bought. We had two kinds of compost already — the useless kind made of grass clippings and the disgusting kind made of kitchen scraps — but she wanted real compost. It came with seeds ready to sprout, which isn’t really how compost is supposed to come, but it was good enough.
Next, she invited a friend over. The friend helped ensure that the project would actually get done.
Wife and Friend measured out a big rectangle, laid out a bunch of wire fencing, and formed the fencing into a sort of pan with raised sides. The bottom of the pan is meant to keep groundhogs from burrowing up into the garden from below. I’m not really sure groundhogs do that, but she really hates having groundhogs in her garden, so I didn’t argue with her.
She had originally planned to lay chicken wire on the ground and make the sides of the garden out of nasty old barn wood. We didn’t have any chicken wire, and although we do have lots of nasty old barn wood, it’s kind of hard to build with. The fencing worked much better.
On the north side of the garden, I pounded fence posts in the ground. The posts will support the side of the garden, and we might put lattice or something on them for plants to climb up. Naturally, we had lots of fence posts lying around, to go with our fencing.
For the south side of the garden, I found the perfect set of pressure-treated stakes. On two occasions, we’ve acquired decks from other people’s houses, which we reassembled into a sort of playground. Among the leftovers, I had a pile of wooden balusters, which were basically big stakes with beveled ends. I pounded a few balusters into the ground on the south side, where they support the wire but don’t stick up too high.
For a little while, things got really trashy. My wife had a large quantity of cardboard that she had been weathering… er, saving for just such a project. She and her friend laid the cardboard on the bottom of the garden, then sprinkled some of our festering kitchen compost on top of it, followed by some ash. The ash came from the burnt spot in the middle of our yard where we occasionally burn branches and barn wood.
Finally, we moved many wheelbarrow loads of bought compost into the new garden, and we used children’s feet to smooth it out. Ta-da! The plants are gonna love it.